Friday, March 16, 2012

FU Weekly: Guest Post by Rose Lemberg on Female Characters and Announcement

Woman with WandReaders! So much goodness for you today.

Firstly, a reminder that both our Amazing March Prize Draw and the Auction are still going on.

Secondly, an announcement: Fantastique Unfettered will continue in print after all! Of course we're all pretty excited about this, what with being lovers of ink and paper and all that. 2012 will see the release of one physical book containing both issues 5 and 6 (aka Shakespeare Unfettered) in November with our publisher M-Brane SF. In 2013, our Annual Format will conquer the literary stages of the world in the form of FU #7 (as of yet...Untitled). And there's more! The Founder (aka Brandon H. Bell) will be back in 2013 to once again edit quality fiction of the liberated and awesome kind alongside current boss editor Alexandra Seidel. FU #7 will be the first gorgeous monstrosity created by the co-editors Bell/Seidel; you better watch out for that one! Updates to our guidelines will soon follow, but if you have any questions in the meantime, do shoot us an email (check our Guidelines page or the Press Kit for contact info).

Thirdly, ALL THAT AIN'T GONNA STOP FU WEEKLY! That's right, all-caps. We got a good thing going here, we think, and you will still get your Friday-ly dose of nonfic, right here. Authors, we are open for people who want to contribute, and we are open to your creatively bold suggestions. Send us an email an woo us (yes, that's right. You'll have to check the Guidelines page for that email address.)

Fourthly, we are feeling jubiliant.

Fifthly, business, that is, FU Weekly. The amazing Rose Lemberg is again our guest. Do give her a warm welcome, and enjoy her post.

Rose Lemberg: Five Characters

Recently I wrote an entry on Feminist SFFcharacters in which I discussed what I perceive as a need for greater diversity of female (as well as non-binary) characters in SFF. The entry generated quite a bit of discussion, as well as criticism. To follow up on this entry, Alexandra Seidel suggested I write for FU Weekly about my five favorite female characters in SFF.

Putting this entry together has been quite hard. First of all, it was difficult for me to choose just five out of multiple female characters whom I've found inspiring and personally significant over the years. Even more importantly, I did not want this list to be definitive, for the same reason I avoided discussing specific works in my entry. People differ as to what representations they consider feminist, flawed, stereotyped, and/or personally significant, but I believe that the argument for greater diversity should not focus on specific works, but rather on larger questions (how free are we, as writers, to write female protagonists who are strong in various ways, or passive by choice rather than aggressive, or characters who perform gender roles/femininity within cultural paradigms vastly different from the Anglo-Western paradigm? How easy is it for us as readers to find diverse and non-stereotyped portrayals of women?) Moreover, even one person's preferences as a reader and a writer change over time. Mine certainly did. In a year, this list might look different.

One additional concern has to do with potentially saying that some characters are not done well. We need female characters, we need more of them, of all kinds; and we should not erase or ignore what already exists in the field.

In the end, I decided to be explicit with my concerns. The list below is not definitive, nor is it finite or unmalleable. Rather than a list of favorite characters, this is a list of characters I wanted to discuss as examples in the context of my Feminist Characters entry.

In addition, I decided to adopt a specific lens to discuss these characters; the lens is that of female networks. Alex Dally MacFarlane discusses some of this in her excellent entry on female friendships. I absolutely agree with Alex that it is crucial to see more female friendships; and even more generally, I want to see a plethora of relationships that would appear in books in which multiple and diverse women appear: friendships, mentor/mentee relationships, same-sex unions, trade and business partnerships, extended family networks, and many others.

All that said, the list.

Stone Telling from Ursula K. Le Guin's "AlwaysComing Home." I love this character so much I named my poetry magazine after her. I love her because I got to know her, her whole life (and as a bonus, her cultures). She is a girl, a young woman, a mother, a grandmother. At different times of her life--and under different names--she is careless and adventurous, loving and suffering, oppressed and yielding, oppressed and liberating herself, nurturing and critical, gentle and courageous, rebellious and affirming, wise and contemplative. She is a daughter, a granddaughter, a friend. She is a woman who journeyed away from home, she is a woman who came back. At the end of her life she is immovable as a stone, but she is a stone with a wise and compassionate voice, a voice of a person who has seen and experienced much of what is both wrong and right with the world.

Onyesonwu, from Nnedi Okorafor's "Who Fears Death." I love Onyesonwu because she is a boundary-crosser, a child of a rapist and his victim, a magical child who comes into her power with dignity and compassion. Onyesonwu is a young woman whose devoted friends, female and male, follow her into danger--and her--group? community? cohort?--is such a comfort to her, and to me. I love it that their friendships are tested: not all of these people stay with Onyesonwu till the end, though some do. Her relationship with her husband Mwita is wonderfully done.

Toph Bei Fong, from "Avatar, the Last Airbender." Oh, Toph. I hate the Magical Cripple trope, but AtLA creators make it work. I love Toph because she is strong but cranky, and at times annoying as hell. One of my favorite things about Toph is her growth as a friend and ally. In the beginning, she is not accustomed to having friends--she is a loner determined to "carry her own weight." Gradually, oh so gradually, her friendships with others form through trial and error. I love it that Toph is not a girly girl and does not want to be, and yet I found her "fun day" doing girly things with Katara quite touching. I appreciated that Toph did not change to become a girly girl after this experience. It was an act of friendship, of bonding rather than that of societal and gender norming. Toph is kickass, and that is cool. She is strong but also rough.

Karis, from Laurie J. Marks's "Elemental Logic" series. Laurie J. Marks does so many things right, I had trouble choosing between Karis, Norina, and Zanja. I chose Karis in the end; she is the character who speaks most to me, maybe because I am a fire blood and fire bloods are attracted to earth (this was an in-book reference!). I love Karis because she is a drug addict and a daughter of a whore, a powerful healer and a master blacksmith and yet must be reminded to eat, a caring lover and an infinitely vulnerable survivor of trauma. She is a mix of all that is grand and low, desperate and noble, powerful beyond measure and weak as a newborn. She is oppressed and disempowered, robbed of voice. She is guilt-ridden, she is confused. She survives in community, and she is a core around which her community can grow. Simply put she is Earth, but a different Earth from Toph's. Her friendship with Norina is a rare gift, something I feel is unusual in the genre, something I want to see more often. Norina is harsh and stubborn, loyal and overbearing. Norina is protecting Karis--from herself, as well as from others. She will do anything to protect Karis, even if it means separating her from the woman she loves. But Norina's fierce protectiveness also creates a prison for Karis--security without any true chance of healing or growth. Once the women realize and process this, they work hard on recovering their friendship. I find this just incredibly well done.

Sethra Lavode, from Steven Brust's "Dragaera"books. Now Sethra is my favorite kickass character. She is kickass on an epic scale. She is a lady with a great fashion sense, who is also older than the empire and as a bonus, undead (this is usually not a bonus for me, but Brust makes it work). Sethra wields a dagger which is also a mountain. Sethra is super-smart, a scholar and a warlord. She protects the world from invasions of the Jenoine, and that is time-consuming and difficult work. She is fiercely loyal to her friends. She can be overbearing, and domineering, and she makes mistakes too. She admits her mistakes. She has an awesome Dragonlord friend, Aliera, with whom she constantly argues. Sethra is a character with great gravitas, and she also has a secret identity as a thief (I feel it is partly to escape all that gravitas). I just love Sethra so much. In general, Brust's Dragaera books represent for me everything that made secondary world fantasty so full of sensawunda for me when I was younger (Great Weapons! Godlike Enemies! Amazing Food! Dragons! Love! Mystery! Assassins! Revolutions! Familiars! Dragons!) and yet, it is done so well that I keep enjoying the series in my feminist adulthood; I am blessed with the ability to reread these books with joy, rather than with flinching. This is rare.

Thank you, Rose, for sharing this with us!

Another post our readers may find of interest: Catherynne Valente on True Grit.

Reader, after Rose's post, I'm sure you have already begun compiling your own list of favorite characters, with your own unique reasons for choosing them. Why not have ourselves a little project then? Put your lists on your sites or blogs and drop a link in the comments--we are looking forward to reading!


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